April International Jazz Month brings Cape Town Jazz Mania, festivals and marathon hysteria

Is there festival fatigue?

Cape Town became festival city as the month of April, worldwide set as ‘International Jazz Month’, wound its way around major holiday periods of Easter, South Africa’s Freedom Day, and May Day celebrations. It started with the annual popular and globally applauded Cape Town International Jazz Festival at end March which brought in a myriad of talents and music genres, including exploring jazz styles outside of the conservative mainstream box. Then the Marathons – for bicyclers and runners – through the beauties of the Cape Peninsula terrain. The announcement that UNESCO has designated Cape Town as the site for next year’s ‘Global International Jazz Day 2020’ events brought awe to key stakeholders who were invited to start thinking about their events, alongside empathetic supports (but no money, yet) from the South African Department of Arts and Culture and Department of Tourism.   The 2020 Global Host City event theme befittingly applies to an African city like Cape Town:  “Tracing the Roots and Routes of African Jazz.”

But it was this past week in April: Cape Town, which is fast becoming a traffic jammed, stadium-attired, marathon- mania hub on Africa’s culturally rich continent, exploded with jazz talents: some international, some returnees, some surprises, and many stalwart locals who hold the jazz fort . The main issue at stake, in order to please and cater to the varieties of music lovers, is getting the live performance schedules out into the public awareness so that lovers can choose. Other than social media platforms used by artists and their promoters alike, the Cape Town Jazz Gig Guide https://www.facebook.com/capetownjazzgigguide/   tells pretty much what’s happening in and around town. The caveat is that artists and promoters must send in their listings for publication….. but many simply do not. Scheduled clashes occurred, especially when the annual South African Association for Jazz Education (SAJE) Jazz Festival was scheduled way in advance – for scholars and public alike. Stunning lineups happened; but with shockingly poor turnouts. Has Mania turned to Burn Out of public ears and wallet pockets, one wonder? Or was it the venue….at a Boy’s High School which some might think underrates the quality of the artists presenting, or…..?

Who’s On Top?

Promoters such as Jazz in the Native Yards (JiNY), Slow Life, Iluminar Productions, Arte Viva Management, SAJE, small schools of music, venue presenters, and radio presenters on community and internet stations, such as Bush Radio, Fine Music Radio, All Jazz Radio, and MetroFM, and many others, all have vested and honest sympathies to ‘spread the music’ to the wide varieties of patrons in this growing city and globally. Everyone is in the same boat, scrounging around for funding and venues; there’s no hierarchy amongst us; we all must work together! But sometimes, artists ‘pop up’ in our midst, at the last minute, without proper forewarning or marketing, for whatever reasons.

It makes sense that Artists in town for, let’s say one week, are slotted into various venues over the time period to avoid date clashes. A case in point was a gig at The Alma Café, centrally located in Rondebosch and popular for presenting a variety of live music through the week. Thursdays host its jazz night. The scheduled band of Muneem Hermans generously accommodated, at the last minute, a visiting artist, singer Ziza Muftic and her two other musicians, as it added uniqueness to hear this remarkable Johannesburg-based Croatian singer and South African-schooled artist launch songs from her just-released album, Shining Hour. That is a true collaboration in giving space —but where was the audience for this very worthy double-bill?

What Jazz lovers might have missed….

SAJE’s annual festival kicked off at the Reeler Theatre, a centrally located pleasantly acoustic space at the Rondebosch Boys High School, with a fantastic evening double-bill of musicians who would normally draw large crowds both domestically and overseas.

The Paul Hanmer (piano) and McCoy Mrubata (saxophones), both originally from Cape Town, are celebrating their 30+ years of friendship and jazz.
Seems hardly fair to enjoy only 1 hour of their vast repertoire, but their workshop interview about their brotherhood in jazz the following day tantalized one to run out and listen to their songs, at least digitally.

The Friday double-bill then featured a more international set of visiting Italian saxophonist, Emanuele Cisi, performing with Capetown-based Dutch bassist, Hein van de Geyn, and local wizards, David Leadbetter on piano, and Jono Sweetman, all expertly following Cisi’s own compositions, with a few Standards thrown in. How powerful is that for quality jazz? The patronage turnout was shockingly dismal.

Saturday evening at Reeler found music lovers swooning to some popular jazz Standards performed by the American duo of Darius Brubeck (piano) and Mike Rossi (saxophone). But it was that last song which Brubeck eloquently introduced: when he and the legend, Winston Mankunku, played in Durban in the 1980s during apartheid years, Mankunku chose to play the African-American spiritual song, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”, a commentary on what he, himself, was living through, his musicality cut off by discriminating elements of the day. Brubeck was remembering.

Afrika Mkhize & Salim Washington at Reeler

Their moving tributes were followed by a higher tempo of saxophonist Salim Washington’s Quartet which swung into zesty South African tunes and highly emotional piano chordal flings of the otherwise shy Afrika Mkhize, himself a popular subject for the portrait photographers. Since the day, 27 April, celebrated Freedom Day in South Africa, it was appropriate to play Eddie Harris’s “Freedom Jazz Dance” with spoken word reminders by Washington that Freedom has to reign amongst all.

A Township Venue Comes Alive

This concert was one fine example of collaboration between SAJE and the JiNY who handled the Washington Quartet’s travel arrangements to the Jazz Festival as well as offered one of its venues.  They performed again on Sunday afternoon, the last day of the SAJE Jazz Festival, their sounds resounding with an eager foot-stomping, whistling and whooing crowd of enthusiasts at the popular Guga S’Thebe Cultural Center in Cape Town’s oldest Township of Langa.

Florence Chitacumbi & Mino Cinelu: credit Terence Visagie

Rhythms sang throughout this packed hall, starting with the Afro-European group led by vocalist Florence Chitacumbi, with her percussionist supreme, Mino Cinelu, excelling on his wave drum, and French guitarist, Christophe Bovet. That double-bill requires its own separate entry, including this writer’s interview with Chitacumbi and Cinelu to follow. The afternoon went into evening, closing after 7pm with the Washington/Mkhize band rapturing the crowd for two sets. Happy patrons wobbled home exhausted, imbibed with such unique fanfare of sounds of that day.

One wonders if afternoon performances bring more patrons closer to jazz than evening concerts. It’s a mystery. Yet Saturday evening, May 4, sees Chitacumbi’s trio perform with South African pianist, Nduduzo Makhatini, at Olympia Bakery in Kalk Bay thanks to another willing collaborator, Slow Life. One expects there will be a full house of locals stalking these different Afro-soul and rhythmically gifted musicians to wallow in their eclectic mix of African jazz. Tickets at quicket.co.za for Saturday, May 4, 2019; 8pm or contact 082-892-0350 (Paul Kahanowitz).

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